Thursday, May 31, 2012

Student Behavior Choices

I cannot believe that there are only five days of school left!  As excited as I am for summer, I get sad to see my students go every June.  I feel like we have turned into a family...with shared beliefs, understandings, and mutual respect.  For the last two weeks, I have been letting my students "take control" of their behavior.  They can move up to blue when making great choices, or back to green, or down to yellow when making mistakes.  Their honesty is what truly amazes me.  When I ask my student what color they should be on, thinking they should be on blue, they remind me, "Remember Miss Lak when you had to talk to me once to stay focused on my work?" Or, "You had to remind me it was quiet work time, and I was talking to a friend."  Really minor things, and its amazing that they have that honesty as a seven or eight year old.  I usually commend them on their honesty and then say they should still move up to blue.  I believe that when there is a classroom culture based on mutual respect, and they truly want to make the correct choices, and be the best students they can be.  There are so many positive character traits that I hope have been instilled not only for a short time, but for their future as well.  I really hope the honesty stays with them, and they know appropriate ways to handle themselves both in the classroom and out in the world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TeachHUB Contest!

Today was a great day!  I came home to an e-mail sharing that I was one of the top ten finalists chosen in the national bulletin board finalists.  And this all came the day after I blogged about my experience with Poetry Cafe!  If you have a chance, please head to and vote for our POETREE display.  You can vote 1 time a day until June 4th.  I am so excited that a special activity in my classroom has been shared in a special way.  You can find examples in my post below.  My students amaze me with their poetic words!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Poetry Cafe

One of my absolute favorite days from this school year was our Poetry Cafe.  We completed a poetry unit in March this year.  Yes, I know it's a month early, but it is what worked out best for our schedule!  We spent the first week studying poetry and learning literary elements.  My students were introduced to a lot of new vocabulary including: rhythmic pattern, rhyme, personification, alliteration, imagery, and many more poetic words.  We spent each day during reading studying a certain element, and then in writing, trying it out.  We kept all of our poems in a Poetry Folder.  During reading I would present a type of poem, or poetic element during a mini-lesson.  Students would then "search for" this element in poems that I gave them, highlighting examples.  In the afternoons, my students would attempt each strategy.  There results were amazing!  The poet language was incredible.  Even my struggling writers enjoyed the process.  They loved trying different styles of poetry.  My students created Alliteration Poems, Repetition Poems, Personification, Similes, Imagery, and Onomatopoeia.  After practicing each strategy in isolation, they also attempted poems that included many strategies.  One of my favorite lessons was on Color Poems.  We used Hailstones and Halibut Bones as our mentor text.  We attempted a shared class poem, and then students went off and attempted on their own. The results were amazing.  Students descriptive language was incredible.  One student poetically writes, "Yellow tastes like a cinnamon roll dancing on my taste buds."  Another child says, "Red feels like a soft beautiful blanket that keeps me toasty warm."  Yet another student shares, "Blue is the blueberries that cool my lungs. Blue sounds like peaceful music.  Blue feels like the wind on my face.  Blue is a magical thing!"  Each student was able to  beautifully describe a color using imagery and descriptive language.  This was then translated into their other types of writing.  After completing our study, my students turned blank books into a Poetry Anthology consisting of ten original poems, and two of their "favorite poems" by famous poets.  As a culminating activity, we had a Poetry Cafe in our classroom.  All family was invited into the classroom on a Friday morning. Students were asked to dress in black, and could bring in sunglasses.  I (with the help of my mother, thank you mom!!) created berets for each child out of black fabric and pipe cleaners.  Our Poetry Cafe was presented in true Beatnick Style. "During the 1950's and 1960's a style from the "Beat Generation" where poetry readings at small coffee shops were popular.  People often dressed in black, wore sunglasses and berets, and recited poetry into microphones.  Jazz music was also popular to play during the readings.  Audience members would listen and snap to show appreciation of the poets." I transformed my classroom into this style with black tablecloths on the tables, a black backdrop, and silver and gold decorations with battery operated candles for ambiance.  The day of the big show was incredible.  We had over forty family and friends come to watch our Author's Celebration.  Each child read an original poem from their completed poetry book.  A PowerPoint Presentation accompanied the event.  Students then read a shared class poem that I created from their definition of "What is Poetry?"  It was a truly magical event, and the parents and children absolutely loved it.  I believe it will be an event remembered by my students for a long time!

A Class Poem created by the students in my class, describing what poetry is, using one line from each child. I was amazed by the insight from these seven year old writers.

Poetry Is…
Poetry is like a song that has no music.
Poetry is words that you can sing.
Poetry is as gentle as a flower.
Poetry is not in paragraphs, it is in lines.
One or more words can be on a line of a poem.
Poetry is to me, learning about writing.
Poetry is something I enjoy.
You can write about your life or everybody in your family.
Poems have imagery, personification, 

 rhythmic patterns, and word choice.
Poetry is joyful to my ears.  Poetry is just a soft sound.
Poetry is like rhyming sounds just calling your name.
It is your own story that you make and
can keep it as a treasure forever.
Poetry is action, poetry is description, poetry is me, poetry is love,
 poetry is inspiring, poetry is music to my ears.
Poetry is my soul, my dreams, my love, and makes me control my heart.  I love poetry and poetry loves me. Poetry makes me sing and dance.
 Oh wonderful poetry.

Check out the pictures of Poetry Is...Definitions, Literary Elements, our Poetree (of blooming poems), and completed Poetry Anthologies for students to read.

An article posted about Poetry Cafe in our Pinellas County Schools Newsroom:

Young poets shine in the spotlight

April 2, 2012

First, the second-graders studied various poets and their works.

The second-grade students learned about imagery, alliteration, personification and other poetic elements before creating books of their own poetry.
Then, they used some of the writing techniques and strategies they’d learned about to create a full anthology of their own poetry.
And on the Friday before spring break, students in Suzie Lak’s second-grade classroom at John M. Sexton Elementary School in St. Petersburg took center stage and read their original works to a classroom full of visitors.
Lak’s classroom was set up like a mid-20th century poetry cafe. The kids wore black clothing and berets made out of felt.
They started with a shared, class reading, went through their original pieces of poetry and ended with a poem that the students created together.
More than 40 family members came out to celebrate the students’ writing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bucket Filling Classroom

I am happy to say that we are "Bucket Fillers" in my classroom.  Along with my classroom economy and positive reinforcement strategies, I teach my students starting day one how important it is to say kind and caring things to others.  I have adopted the Bucket Filling Philosophy in my classroom(  It is a wonderful program that teaches students how easy it is to spread kindness and happiness.  There are several books by Carol McCloud that illustrate this philosophy.  We start the year reading the stories, and having my students understand the difference between a bucket filler and a bucket dipper.  This philosophy states everyone has an invisible bucket they carry around that can get filled with kind words, or depleted with unkind words and actions.  We use this simple terminology all year, especially when students have a conflict with each other.  I also discuss with my students the Golden Rule, which they not only learn but discuss and practice in the classroom.  We begin the year with Morning Meetings everyday which highlight these principals and give students a chance to role play and understand these concepts.  I also have a bulletin board up in my classroom all year with mini buckets for each student.  My students are able to fill another student's bucket when they catch someone doing something good.  They fill out a Bucket Filler form and write down both their name and the name of the child who's bucket is being filled.  They also get to place a "drop" in each bucket.  We use pom-poms to symbolize the drops. This gives a concrete example showing when you notice someone doing something good, both you and his/her invisible bucket gets filled.  Once a week we have a Bucket Filling Meeting.  In this 15 minute meeting we read through the bucket filling forms and highlight all the good deeds done in our classroom that week.  We then choose one of the papers of to highlight a student Bucket Filler of the Week.  Every other month at this meeting we take our buckets down and count all the drops in our bucket, adding a sticker with the amount of buckets filled in that amount of time.  I truly believe my students are more kind, caring, and thoughtful to each other because of our bucket filling classroom!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Classroom Economy

In my classroom, I have created a microcosm of the world in order to provide my students with real world experiences.  My students are hired for classroom jobs each week.  At the beginning of the year they fill out their "application" for jobs, sharing their strengths and expertise.  Each week they have a job responsibility.  Each job also earns pay every Friday.  We use a classroom currency of plastic coins to run our money system. The payment is dependent on how much work is involved.  For example, the highest paying job is the "Currency Exchanger" or Banker in my classroom.  My students also get paid for their good behavior daily.  My behavior plan focuses on positive reinforcement, where children start every day on green.  If they stay on green all day they get paid ten cents at the end of the day.  If they are really well behaved and move up to blue, they get paid fifteen cents.  On really special occasions they get paid twenty five cents for purple and a "Stingray Salute" a school wide behavior award.  Even if they have had an okay day, with a few minor problems, and had to move down to yellow they still get paid five cents.  If my student ends the day on red, a major offense, there is no payment included.  My children keep their money in a money jar in their desk. Every other Friday afternoon I open Miss Lak's store, baskets that cover my kidney table with different prices.  Depending on the week you might find many different items.  Erasers, crayons, pencils, books, and other teaching materials, along with toys and games.  My students learn really quickly how to count change, a difficult second grade concept.  Since they want to spend their money, its perfect motivation for counting coins and understanding the value of money. Most items range between twenty five cents and one dollar, with special items costing two dollars and fifty cents.  In this way, I teach the value of saving verse spending.  If they want a "big ticket" item, they have to save money for about a month.  One of the biggest sellers is Lunch with Teacher, an outdoor picnic lunch with me every other Wednesday.  They love that personal time with me, and don't mind paying the seventy five cent fee at each store to come eat lunch with me.  My students also get paid for returning important papers and documents.  I also charge them five cents a day for incomplete homework.  Believe me, they WILL turn in homework when they realize their hard-earned money has to be given back. I provide my students with two pencils, a glue stick, white board marker, and box of crayons each semester.  If they need a new pencil, they can pay fifteen cents to get one (with their name on it).  I'm sure you know how quickly pencils disappear and break in the classroom!  As soon as I started charging for new pencils, the pencil world has changed.  They last so long, and remain in great condition.  My students learn to keep control of their belongings, and do a great job of it.  I think a classroom economy is a great way to teach valuable life lessons early in life.
Airline Jobs at LAK Airways

Our Classroom Behavior System

LAKBANK is open every afternoon!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Autobiography Writing

Over the last two weeks we have focused on writing autobiographies in my classroom.  My students started by creating a timeline of important events in their life.  We have read several autobiographies of important people, to study the style and writing.  We also have done an author study of Patricia Polacco, since she often writes stories about her life as a child and the important events in her life.  My students love to hear about Tricia (Patricia), her Babushka (grandmother), Aunt Natasha and other important people in her life.  She really has a way with words that create magic on a page, and my students love to take notice.  I continue to share with my students how important word choice and voice is in a piece of writing.  We talk about imagery, and how important it is as writers to paint a picture in your readers mind.  After our read alouds, students are given time to try out the strategies we focused on in the stories, while working on their writing.  I love this time of year, when they have learned many different elements to include, and attempt them in each story.  Sure they might "overuse" the strategy, but they are making great attempts!  Along with their autobiography students had a chance to write an "I Remember" poem, which is a poem with repetition that describes important events from their childhood.  As a final piece of the project, students have created their Autobiography Voki character of themselves, which share important facts from their life.  I will use these completed projects as part of their End of the Year Memory Books, which I am starting with my students in the next few days.  While many other teachers spend the final days of school with movies, games, and busy work, I think it is important to keep on going, teaching and having children try new things.  My students can't wait to get to writing time and work diligently on this special project!  Just today my students asked if we could write letters to Patricia Polacco, to share with her how much they love her stories and let her know what a great job she does creating pictures in her readers minds! So yes, tomorrow we will fit a letter writing lesson into the day to say thank you to Ms. Polacco for being a great inspiration.   How could I say no to teachable moments with active student engagement?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Voki Love

I am very grateful to the Tampa Bay Area Writing Project, the Summer Institute of Professional Development I attended last summer for introducing me to many new ideas for the classroom.  One of my favorites has been,, an online program that lets my students create talking avatars.  So far we have used this three times.  My students created a Voki character to go with their biography reports.  This was their first attempt with the program.  Voki can be done for free, or you can choose to pay a minimal amount (under $30) to update to Voki Classroom.  I have found this to be very useful.  And the best part is all the second grade classrooms can use it, since it allows for up to six classes of twenty students or less.  In Voki Classroom, I can add assignments and can monitor my students work.  Since my children got so excited, I actually added two extra credit projects, and had several children go home and work on their Vokis!  When my students finished their biography, they created a character to match.  Next my students created an autobiography of themselves, which matched the story they wrote.  My students have also worked on a Voki animal character that can be found in the habitat of the Science Habitat PowerPoint Presentations they are working on.  It's amazing how much technology my students can learn and use effectively in such a short period of time.  I plan to use Voki's throughout the year next year to match all the units I teach.  It is highly motivating to my students, allows for a different type of presentation, and helps with computer and typing skills.   

Here is an example of a Voki biography avatar that was created:

              Amelia Earhart
                 by Fletcher

Check out the rest of our Voki's by clicking here!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Special Olympics and SVE Buddies

Yesterday, Saturday, was a day I have been excited about for a really long time.  It was Florida's Special Olympics Summer Games.  I signed up to be a Sports Enthusiast volunteer for the games.  You see, a few years ago, I decided to make a connection with the grade 2-3 SVE (Severe Varying Exceptionalities) classroom at my school.  I worked with the Special Education Teacher to create a "buddies" program for my students.  I believe this has been one of the most positive experiences for all of my students in the past several years.  Each year, during the first week of school, my students and the SVE students meet together and play get to know you games.  I start with my new students right away sharing how everyone is different and unique, and that is what makes everyone so special.  In my classroom we embrace differences while looking for similarities in everyone.  It is amazing how quickly my little seven year old students grow to love their buddies.  Everyday, we eat lunch together and go to specials together (art, music, or PE).  We also have special occasions where we celebrate events with each other in the classroom.  My students learn to be helpful positive role models, friends, and caring citizens.  I believe if all children learned, interacted, and understood about different types of people at a young age, so much of the world's fear and prejudice would diminish.  This year, my classroom has become an inclusive classroom with students with different needs fully included into the general education setting.  My students have been incredibly open, kind, and caring young individuals.  They truly amaze me each and every day!  That is why I couldn't wait to volunteer at the Special Olympics on Saturday at the Wide World of Sports at Disney World.  The children I met were incredibly inspiring.  They tried their best at every activity, cheered on not only their teammates, but ALL the athletes, and never gave up.  What wonderful life lessons these children and adults can teach and share with countless others.  I know they have made a huge impact on me!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Language Arts Beanie Strategies

About two years ago I spent time searching for ways to include the Multiple Intelligences when teaching Reading and Writing.  I wanted my second graders to understand and interact with my Teaching Points or strategies.  While looking on the Internet, I found Comprehension and Decoding Beanie Baby Strategies for Reading. This was an original idea from April Schlib,  I thought this was a great idea.  Beanie animals with memorable names like Skippy the Frog (who skips the word and then comes back), or Chunky Monkey (who chunks the words into parts) help teach students how to decode words.  With teaching second grade, I spend the majority of the time on comprehension strategies.  I decided to modify this idea and match Beanie Babies to the Teaching Points covered in our reading curriculum.  I worked on catchy names like "What's the Matter?" Monkey for Problem and Solution, Manely Lion for Main Idea, and Purposeful Pig for Author's Purpose.  I next started collecting beanie babies.  This part was relatively simple.  Head over to your local flea market and do some bargaining.  You can usually find them for very cheap, and if you explain they are for your classroom people will often give you a break!  I then decided to take it a step further and create Writing Beanie Babies to match the strategies we teach in Writing through second grade.  My Writing Camp Creatures include Quackers, the Dialogue Duck and Hoot!  The Onomatopoeia Owl.  My students love to learn with the beanies, and the strategies really seem to be memorable for my students.  I put an "I am the heart" of the lesson heart on the beanie baby that I am focusing on each day, which matches the teaching point.  I hope to continue to inspire my students, and find ways to make my teaching stick!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Teaching with Technology

I feel that it is very important to teach with technology.  Technology is the future for my second graders.  It is imperative that they know how to use many different programs, and they feel comfortable on each.  I start off every year and make sure that my second graders are knowledgeable in Microsoft Word. We publish our writing in Word, giving creative control to the students with choice of font, size, color, and pictures.  And they LOVE to have control!  It's amazing how exciting fonts and colors can be to seven year olds.  Teaching in Times New Roman Size 12 does not motivate a child...but cursive fonts.  Beyond exciting!  Last week I introduced my children to Microsoft PowerPoint.  It's amazing how quickly they have picked it up.  I showed them once as a class, and then carefully chose partners with a strong and weak computer skills children. Then I let them go. They are learning designs, transitions, adding in pictures and text boxes.  Their goal is to create a ten slide PowerPoint on a habitat they have researched.  For their first time I have given them a guide as to what each slide should contain.  They do need guidance and support, but it's amazing to watch them go.  Each group of two to three students are researching a different habitat which will be presented soon.  Students have also created Voki avatars during both a Biography and Autobiography unit.  This online program has been both exciting and entertaining for the students.  Their ability to create characters, change backgrounds, add in speech, and make their talking avatars have been delightful for me to enjoy.  Many of my students have gone home and created "Extra Credit" Vokis as well.  Combining education and online technology, their learning is growing is expanding.  What a better way to spend a night than creating a Voki of a historical figure?  The alternative is a television show or a video game.  I hope to continue integrating technology into many educational experiences!

Friday, May 11, 2012

New to Blogging

I love to teach.  I love to share ideas with teachers.  I get the best ideas from other educators.  So I decided to join the world of blogging.  I'm new here, and I am excited!  My name is Suzie Lak and I am a second grade teacher at John M. Sexton Elementary School.  My classroom is called LAK Airways: Where Learning Takes Flight!  I have had a classroom website for a few years, but wanted to try something new. So...welcome to my new blog!  To find out more about me and my class, please visit: My Classroom Website